Interview with Elsa Davidsohn, conducted by Jens Michelsen on July 24, 2001 [in excerpts], FZH/WdE 433.

English Translation

    Jens Michelsen reads Elsa Davidsohns report entitled “Meine Vergangenheit“ [“My Past“] (1999), which is archived in the archives of the Research Center for Contemporary History under call number FZH-Archiv, B_D 004 (Elsa Davidsohn and Senta Levy), 32, and Elsa Davidsohn comments the reading.
    M: “After Palestine became Israel in 1948, indeed, the taxes were much higher than with the British, and so we decided, Senta and I, to go to Hamburg in 1958, because it was Senta's birthplace and we had prospects to get an apartment“, yes. Oh, yes. So it was mainly for such financial reasons that that you went?
    D: Yes.
    M: Or were you also, uh, worried that it was too much stuff…
    D: Also in terms of language, also in terms of language.
    M: In terms of language, too, mhm.
    D: You couldn’t really understand, theater or concerts or…
    M: Mhm.
    D: We were already too old.
    M: You were already too old. Yes, yes... And something like concerts and theater, that was important to you?
    D: Exactly
    M: Yes…
    M: Exactly
    M: Yes… So did you go to Haifa for concerts and theater? Or where did you go?
    D: Oh, we did not have time.
    M: Didn’t have time…
    D: We were completely secluded.
    M: I see, yes…
    D: No, no time and no money.
    M: Yes…
    D: He-he. No, that was... And that’s why we did it.
    M: Yes, yes, I see… So you hardly had any friends and such?
    D: Oh, yes, we did.
    M: That you did indeed…
    D: At that time, we were in the lodge, in the B‘rithloge This probably refers to the B'nai B'rith-Lodge.
    M: Ah yes, that’s where you went?
    D: Friday evenings, yes indeed.
    M: Ah yes.
    D: Inside the KJ or KJ  The abbreviation probably refers to Keren Kayemeth, the Jewish National Fund is the plural?…
    M: Yes…
    D: We did have friends there but did not get out much.
    M: Did you also maintain those contacts, later, when you were in Hamburg, or not so much?
    D: Nah.
    M: No?
    D: They have all died off in the meantime.
    M: Yes…
    M: Let me read on: “I have retired here.“
    D: Yes, yes.
    M: At the age of, I'll just do the math…
    D: 55!
    M: … 50 years.
    D: 55!
    M: “At 55 years… and managed the household. Senta went to work for the administration and had a very hard time learning the German laws after 18 years.” Ah yes.
    M: “But she made it. Through the restitution, we were able to buy a condominium.” That’s this one? Or... ah, yes. “And a new car every two years.” Fantastic!
    D: He-he.
    M: Yeah, that is great! Uh-uh. “We took wonderful trips until Senta became ill and unfortunately passed away on January 22, 1999. She had retired at 60 and died at 85. I forgot to say that my, yes, that my mother, my mother-in-law, my oldest brother with his wife and daughter, who was 17 at the time, uncles, aunts, cousins were deported from Berlin and went missing in the... in the East.” But you wrote one more word in between…
    D: With, I believe.
    M: Nah, you just [wrote]: “were deported and...”
    D: I don’t know.
    M: You don’t know?
    D: “…and were gassed probably! Or how do you say?”
    M: Yes… Yes…
    D: Ah, my glasses…
    M: “were deported and..."
    D: I’ll take yours, maybe I can see with them.
    M: Yes, take a look. Does that work?
    D: No!
    M: No. Doesn’t work? He-he-he.
    D: He-he-he
    M: Good. Then take yours, will you?
    D: “and...” I don’t know what I wrote there either... He-he.
    M: “deported and went missing.”
    D: You don’t know either, probably, yeah…
    M: There is another word in between, yes.
    D: “and according to the report,” something like that.
    M: Oh, according to the report! Yes.
    D: Yes: “went missing in the East"
    M: Ah, yes. These were, yes... were indeed really quite, quite a lot of persons from your family. And you don’t know where, where they were killed?
    D: Yes, my mother, I got one of those things here!
    M: Hmh.
    D: Uh, she apparently ended up in Minsk. And the others were in Theresienstadt.
    M: Ah, yes.
    [] Abridged: conversation about the mother’s maiden name and history of relatives
    M: Yes, and now you write, “But I only learned that,” that is, about the death…
    D: Yes.
    M: ...of your relatives? “But I only learned about that some years later.” Yes, here. “Since in that year, July 1942, I got mail about everybody from the Red Cross. By that time, Berlin was judenrein [literally, 'clean of Jews'].“ Yes, as they said, yes. “My...” Ah, yes. “My other two brothers married, but without children, then died in America. So I was left alone as the youngest.” Yes, yes. “Hamburg, August 30, 1999. Elsa Davidsohn."
    D: Exactly two years ago, right?
    M: Yes, almost exactly two years. Yes…
    D: How time flies…
    M: Yes, it flies... You did also…
    D: I scribbled it down like that!
    M: You wrote it down like that, right?
    D: I think it did not even take a quarter or half an hour.
    M: Yes, yes. Yes, you... That is why it makes sense to ask a little bit more. May I take this with me and copy it? That would be very nice, because…
    D: Yes.
    M: Now we do have recorded the second part on tape, but…
    D: Heh!
    M: Um, that um, is better after all when you have the written template. Yes, that, yes... Yes, now you have been living in Hamburg again for 43 years?
    D: Yes.
    M: Yes. Did you feel comfortable in Hamburg relatively soon? Or did it take a long time?
    D: Well, my goodness, at first I did... would, I wouldn’t have gone back to Berlin anymore.
    M: Why?
    D: Because I would have seen in every person a Nazi that smashed up my apartment.
    M: Yes…
    D: And she wanted to go to Hamburg. From the beginning, she said she was going to go to Hamburg. And we got a very nice apartment, from a cousin who went to America. And I felt very comfortable there. At first, it was very difficult.
    M: Yes?
    D: I saw a Nazi in everyone.
    M: Yes?
    D: Senta not so much, but me, yes indeed.
    M: Yes, of course. After everything you’ve experienced, right? Yes…
    D: But one got used to it quickly. All the people were always so nice to me, right? He-he.
    M: Was ni... quite nice then, the people, yes?

    Source Description

    Elsa Davidsohn was born as Elsa Coper on July 8, 1903 in Berlin. Her parents ran a store selling ready-to-wear clothing, where Elsa Coper also worked after her apprenticeship as a dressmaker, taking over the business after her father’s death in 1929. In 1930 she married and a few years later, she operated a larger clothing business in Berlin-Friedrichshain. After the business had been destroyed during the November Pogrom in 1938, her husband, who was particularly at risk, fled to England; Elsa Davidsohn managed to escape on the last emigration transport in October 1939 to Palestine, where she reunited with her husband in 1945. Following his death, in 1958, she returned to Germany with her friend Senta Levy, choosing Hamburg, Levy's birthplace, to settle down. Elsa Davidsohn died there on April, 13, 2006 at the age of 102. She gave the following interview in 2001. More interviews from the Workshop of Memory can be found here

    Recommended Citation

    Interview with Elsa Davidsohn, conducted by Jens Michelsen on July 24, 2001 [in excerpts], FZH/WdE 433., edited in: Key Documents of German-Jewish History, <> [February 29, 2024].